I have an unruly privet hedge. I know it can look a little shaggy and overgrown. I know my neighbor doesn’t like it. Landscapers have tried to clean out my hedge, make it neat and groomed. But at the end of April every year, and again, briefly, in September, that privet is wildly overrun with honeysuckle. And I adore honeysuckle. I stand in the driveway in the evening and just inhale the magical perfumed air, in the brief season before the heat is too oppressive, the mosquitos too bothersome or the humidity to intolerable. I invite people over for an outdoor dinner just so we can sit and bask in the fragrance. It is the smell of the South, the smell of my childhood, the scent of all good things. I pick off a few yellow blossoms, pull out the stamen and suck on that little honeyed drop of nectar, still, just like when I was a kid and delighted in catching fireflies, checking the yellow reflection of buttercups under my chin, blowing dandelion poofs into the wind. When running around the neighborhood was fun, not cardio. Now I know all the places in town with overgrown honeysuckle hedges, and route my driving errands so I can ride with the windows down and get a good whiff.
But honeysuckle season is short, just those few weeks, right around my birthday. I have longed to keep the season going, I’ve bought perfumes and candles to mimic the smell. They’re nice, but not the same. This year, I had an idea, as I sat on the patio inhaling the sweet air. One of my favorite English flavors is elderflower cordial. It seems old-fashioned, in the loveliest of ways, to me. Like cotton lawn dresses on wide swaths of grass, parasols and hardback novels, sipping small glasses of homemade cordials. I love the image, and I bring back a bottle of elderflower cordial from England each year and try to create my own private reverie. I don’t know that elderflowers grow anywhere near my home. I am not in fact sure what an elderflower bush (or tree?) looks like. But I have seen recipes for the cordial in those amazing books that teach you how to bottle strawberries and make your own hedgerow wine. So sitting in the dusk, breathing in the ethereal scent, I wondered. Could I adapt an elderflower cordial recipe for honeysuckle? The answer, as it happens is a resounding yes. So now I have bottled my spring, to be enjoyed in the hot and humid days to come. I’ll pour a nice measure over ice, top it with sparkling soda or tonic and dream of my honeysuckle days.
Use this lovely cordial to make a refreshing drink topped with soda or tonic, use it to sweeten ice tea, or drizzle it over fresh summer fruit.
4 cups honeysuckle buds, lightly packed
2 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon citric acid*
Gather the honeysuckle blossoms, and shake them in a colander or lay them out on a tea towel. Pick through the blossoms removing any green leaves, stems, brown, wilted buds or bugs. Place the sorted blossoms in a large bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off strips of the yellow (no white pith) lemon peel in strips and place on top of the blossoms. Cut the lemon into slices, discard the stem ends, and drop the slices in the bowl. Toss around to combine.
In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, pour the boiling syrup over the blossoms and lemons in the bowl. Stir in the citric acid, cover the bowl with a tea towel, and leave for 24 hours undisturbed.
The next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl or measuring jug with a pouring spout. Pour the strained cordial into bottles or jars.
Makes about 16 ounces of cordial
*Citric acid is a natural preservative. It is also called sour salt and can be found in the kosher section at the grocery.